Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What has the Academy to do with the Church?

This question has a long history, going back to Tertullian (160-225), who famously asked, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" It is interesting to read the quote in context, which I would not claim to really understand.
Whence spring those "fables and endless genealogies," and "unprofitable questions," and "words which spread like a cancer? " From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, "See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost." He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from "the porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart." Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.
Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum 7.9
[On prescription to heretics, a helpful introduction is here].

The context seems to be that Tertullian was arguing against heretics having the right to use Scripture in their arguments, rather than against Christians making use of philosophy and reason.

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